Not long after last month's Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Department of Homeland Security said that US citizens or permanent US residents in a same-sex marriage would be able to sponsor their foreign spouses for green cards, a right previously reserved for straight couples.  Now, the DHS announced on Friday, it's going to open its books on past cases of people in same-sex marriages who tried to get their partner a green card and were denied.

The DHS issued new guidelines on Friday morning which indicate that the department will undertake a "concerted effort to identify denials" of green-card requests "that occurred on the basis of DOMA section 3 after February 23, 2011".  Section 3, which for federal purposes had defined "spouse" as only being between people of the opposite sex who are husband and wife, was struck down by the Supreme Court.  February 23, 2011 is the date when President Barack Obama decided that his administration would not try to defend DOMA in court. 

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The DHS says that it has tried to keep track of all denials which were made on the basis of the Defense of Marriage Act since Obama's decision.  It will now reopen those cases; gay and lesbian couples will also be able to request a review of their denied case even if it didn't come after the date of the president's decision.  Additionally, new consideration will be given to same-sex couples that are engaged but not yet married - and the engaged doesn't have to be residing in the United States, either.  "As long as all other immigration requirements are met, a same-sex engagement may allow your fiancé to enter the United States for marriage," say the guidelines.

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The Supreme Court ruling was received as a major victory for same-sex binational couples - perhaps doubly so after an amendment to the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill which would've extended similar rights was left out amid Republican opposition to what conservatives said would prove a "poison pill" to a bipartisan compromise.

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As many as 36,000 couples could benefit from the changes in immigration laws, according to Immigration Equality, a pro-gay-immigrant-rights group.